Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have an opportunity this morning to speak to Bill C-60 at report stage.
I think we need to refresh our memories, because it has been more than a month and a half since we last discussed Bill C-60, a bill that will have the effect of creating a Canadian food inspection agency.
It will be a parapublic agency, rather like those school boards we have in Quebec. This parapublic agency will be responsible for setting standards for the safety, quality and manufacture of food products.
The purpose of this bill is to consolidate the food inspection services of three departments, which are the departments of health, fisheries and oceans and agriculture and agri-food.
You will probably recall that in December, there was an aspect of the bill that bothered opposition members, and I mean both the Reform Party and the official opposition, the Bloc Quebecois. I am referring to the manner in which the executives of this parapublic agency will be appointed. The president and the vice-president will be appointed by the governor in council, and the president can appoint an advisory board of 12 members.
You know as well as I do that the government of the Prime Minister, the member for Saint-Maurice, will appoint a Liberal, and that the president will appoint a vice-president who will be a Liberal as well. I hardly need to tell you what political affiliation the members of the advisory board will have. So we have a nice little board which the minister of agriculture or the governor in council, in other words, cabinet, will be able to control.
This parapublic agency is a very important body because it will employ some 4,500 people. I remind you as well that, to properly prepare everything, under Bill C-60, the hiring rules would be suspended for a period of up to two years. So the new agency, which in theory is to begin operations by the first of April, is being readied as a patronage haven.
We in the Bloc Quebecois have proposed amendments that would significantly improve it, because there is obviously some merit in the objectives. We do not, however, agree with the government's underhanded approach to achieving its ends. I hope the government takes a lot of interest in passing our amendments, for the welfare of our fellow Canadians across the country.
By combining the food inspection services of these three departments, we could save a lot of money. Overlap is often criticized, but with this measure, if it is well administered, we could save up to $40 million annually. That is a significant amount. We salute the initiative, but not so much the way of going about it. There is the issue of transparency.
The aim of the amendments we proposed in group No. 8 is to have the new food inspection agency submit its business plan annually to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.
Bill C-60 provides for the president of the new agency to submit his business plan to the minister of agriculture, who will have to approve the plan within 15 days. In other words, the minister may, as I said earlier, pull some strings in order to concoct a business plan to his liking.
So, here is what we propose to do to amend clause 22. I would like to read it to you so that all elected members of this House can realize how important this debate is.
As soon as possible after the Agency is established and at least once every five years after that, the Agency must submit a corporate business plan, for study, to such committee of the House of Commons as designated or established to consider agricultural matters for study by that committee.
After reviewing the agency's business plan, the committee referred to in the subsection I just read either approves or rejects the plan.
The Minister of Agriculture should not fear the Standing Committee on Agriculture. Do not think for a moment that the agriculture committee is controlled by Quebec sovereignists, or by Reformers from western Canada; this committee is made up of eight members of the Liberal Party, two members of the Bloc Quebecois and two members of the Reform Party. Simple mathematics indicates an easy Liberal majority of eight against four, not to mention the fact that the Chair is also a Liberal. That makes nine Liberals against four opposition members. It would not be such a big deal, since it would involve not just a single individual, but the committee as a whole. So we are dealing with 13 members. This way, the committee could become less of a babysitting service for members and more useful as a place where members of the various committees can take their responsibilities and provide thoughtful advice to their-I am talking about Liberal members of course-Minister of Agriculture, who is, unfortunately, often out of touch with the realities faced by farming communities across Canada.
The Minister of Agriculture, who hails from Saskatchewan, is familiar with the particular difficulties associated with farming in that western province. But when it comes to a highly diversified agriculture like we have in the maritimes, in Ontario and in Quebec, we have to forgive the minister because he really does not know much about that type of agriculture.
So, this is the amendment I proposed in this House with the support of the hon. member for Matapédia-Matane.
Another suggestion we are making here also has to do with clause 22, but at line 9. I will read the amendment that we propose and I hope Liberal members will consider it. I also hope they will not follow the party line dictated by their minister and will not all vote against the amendments proposed by the Bloc Quebecois.
any person from the agriculture, fisheries, food processing, food distribution and public health sectors whom the Agency considers appropriate to consult;
The agency would not have to ask the minister's authorization to consult groups other than those scheduled to be included in the new agency. It would also be in a position to consult any provincial government that makes a written request to that effect to the agency.
All these reasons should convince hon. members opposite to support these motions in amendment, which seek to improve Bill C-60.